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HOME LOCAL MIDEAST ASIA WORLD BUSINESS SPORT OPINION WRITERS
Abdalla M. Taryam: Set them free
July 15, 2011
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A few days back, UAE sport fans were treated to an inspiring bit of news. It came somewhat of a shock to many of us who don’t follow the UAE football league closely but nonetheless a welcome surprise. Olympique Lyonnaise, the giants of French football, have requested the services of UAE’s very own Hamdan AlKamali.

This is Lyon, the winner of 7 French league titles and a mainstay of the Champions League. A club that has produced the likes of Karim Benzema, Sidney Gouvou and Hatem Ben Arfa, and they were interested in our 22-year-old defensive starlet.

Surely it’s a dream that has come true for Hamdan, UAE fans and UAE football in general. But sadly it shall not transpire.

After a few days of speculation amongst fans and journalists about the authenticity and the seriousness of the offer, a spokesperson of Al Wahda Club who own the rights to the player, released a statement confirming the loan bid and the rejection at the same time. In his words they “apologised to them because he has a contract with [Al Wahda].”

I am not an avid follower of the UAE football league, nor do I favour one UAE club over another but this decision has extremely disappointed me. Hasn’t UAE football been looking for ways to improve the game and attract more fans? How is this opportunity not a step in the right direction? Or should I say “was” a step in the right direction?

This was simply a loan bid for one season. What harm can it possibly do?

Lets take the worst-case scenario from a player’s development point of view. Say he doesn’t really impress in France or doesn’t get a chance. He would still train under world-class coaches, experience elevated competition, learn from Michel Bastos, Anthony Reveillere and Cris as well as living the life of a real professional. With all due respect to UAE clubs and their players, even if he doesn’t kick a ball in a champions league match he will still gain more experience than playing every minute of a season in the UAE.

Now lets look at Al Wahda’s fortunes without AlKamali. Indeed Hamdan is an influential figure in the team’s line up and granted that local talent is hard to come by but Al Wahda still possesses one of the finest academies in the country. Undoubtedly they will be able to fill the void, if not from their youth setup then a foreign stopgap for one season is hardly a dire option. Also Al Wahda did not qualify for the 2012 AFC Champions League, so the excessive desire of continental success that predominates our clubs does not manifest in this situation. Can they win a domestic trophy without him (seems to be the only plausible factor in this decision)? They certainly have the talent and finances to do so.

Flashback to 2003 when a 20-year-old Ismail Matar, another product of the Al Wahda academy, shook the FIFA World Youth Championship and ran away with the Golden Ball Award. Do you know who came in second and third for that award? Answer: Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves. Let us pause for a few seconds to get rid of our disparaging thoughts.

Yes he lived up to expectations here in the UAE as he lead the nation to their first ever GCC Cup title four years later but I can only dream of the levels he would have reached had he been allowed to secure a move abroad early on. I honestly think his potential exceeded regional success and now at 28 we can all agree that his development has stagnated. Aren’t we making the same mistake with Hamdan AlKamali now?

I cannot see the club losing out from a loan move for Hamdan. The player will come back after a season in which Al Wahda will surely still be competitive and the extensive experience that he gains from a top European institution will infect the whole club on his return. Whether he wins the affection of the Lyon fans or not you cannot see it as a failure in any sense. The UAE is still a young and developing sporting nation. Just like we pay for our future business and political leaders to learn from knowledgeable foreign organisations we should pave the way for our future sports stars to seek out such experiences.

Missing out on winning a domestic title for one year isn’t the end of the world; moreover the chances of winning major titles after such player gains will improve dramatically. Let our players go. In fact, encourage them to do so. Support them. Only then will we reap the rewards and improve football in the UAE.

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